After spending two days in the headwaters of the Crystal River we made our way back to a local cafe in Carbondale to contemplate our next move. While enjoying some breakfast burritos and wireless internet access we called Charlie Mix who was living in Durango for the summer. Charlie explained that water levels were dropping fast and that if we wanted to catch Vallecito, we should come quickly. Vallecito had been high our hit list in 2008 and was again for 2009 too, but so far we had yet to catch it on either trip. Vallecito has been described by many as “the best mile of creeking in Colorado”. With that in mind, we loaded up and hit the road arriving with enough daylight to meet Cruise Quenelle for a run.
In my opinion Vallecito is one of those rare rivers that lives up to the hype that surrounds it. It is truly beautiful creek in a tight gorge with smooth boulders and a seemingly endless number of fun rapids and boofs. We followed Cruise’s lead, rarely slowing down enough to document the run, but emerged from the depths of the gorge with ear to ear smiles that nothing could dampen. We spent that evening at Cruise’s house catching up with the rest of the Alabama boys who were living there for the summer. Late into the night we watched each other’s video footage, sharing all the stories from a summer of running rivers.
Although it was very tempting to stay another day for more laps on Vallecito, the next morning we decided to turn our attention to a different run on our list, the Big South. We left Durango mid morning and made it back to Aspen in time for another run on Castle Creek and the Roaring Fork before finding a beautiful crash and dash spot to sleep for the night. The following day we drove towards Denver and spend that afternoon and the following morning running the Upper and Blackrock sections of Clear Creek before continuing our drive north to the Big South.
The evening we arrived at the Big South take-out, the last group was still hanging around after their run and invited us camp with them that evening for the first of two nights we would spend camping in mosquito hell. The following morning as we drove to the put-in we found another crew of southeasterners camping along the road. We pulled over to greet these friends and ended up catching a ride with them to set shuttle. The put-in for Big South is actually on Weird Creek. We had been told that Weird Creek is actually fun at high water, but what we found was a bang fest that continued to abuse our already heavily used boats. Luckily the flow doubled at the confluence and soon the fun rapids and drops began.
Lot of rapids and a few flat stretches spread throughout the run make Big South a long day by most people’s standards. Including the mileage on Weird Creek it is a twelve-mile run, but very rewarding, especially for groups like ours scouting their way down for the first time. We rotated boat and bank scouting as necessary throughout the day, occasionally getting cues from other groups we caught up to then while they were scouting or portaging. The larger named rapids were certainly fun, but one of the unexpected highlights was how many really fun read and run sections we encountered. A perfect example was what is known as the Prime Time Gorge, a section where the river narrowed between tight cliff walls and containing several rapids in quick succession. Boat scouting our way though this section felt more like Vallecito than the rest of the run on Big South. After reaching the take-out we found another great free campsite along another tributary of Cache la Poudre, Joe Wright Creek.
Joe Wright Creek enters Cache la Poudre above the Spencer Heights section and we decided to spend our last day in the area checking out both runs. We had planned to run Spencer Heights ahead of time, but I have to admit that I had never heard of Joe Wright Creek. I guess that it will always overshadowed by its close proximity to Big South, but it turned out to be a great run in it’s own right. The run is mostly non-stop with very few eddies. It’s the kind of run where it really isn’t practical or necessary to scout and know the lines because all you can really do is follow the water and charge. We knew from talking to other groups that the run was free of wood, but it sill made me nervous charging around blind corners and into the tight gorge known as Carnito Canyon. However, our beta on the wood was correct and we emerged unscathed from what turned out to be our final river day of the trip.
The following day we made our way back to Buena Vista to take care of a few details before departing for Chattanooga. A good meal followed by hot showers at the laundry mat prepared us for the long drive that was ahead of us. The non-stop marathon drive was as brutal as can be expected, but a necessary evil to maximize trips such as this one. That that end, we arrived back in Chattanooga TN after twenty two hours on the road just in time for Matt to start a twelve-hour night shift at his job. I’m sure during that night he might have felt otherwise, but in retrospect… it’s always worth it!
Until Next Time...